California Penal Code Section 459 – Burglary
The crime of burglary is covered under California Penal Code Section 459 and is commonly called “breaking and entering.” In basic terms, the theft crime of burglary is described as the entering someone else’s residential or commercial structure with a specific intent to commit theft or any felony. When most people hear the word “burglary,” they often believe it means forcing or breaking their way into a home or business. However, forced entry is not necessary to be convicted of burglary. PC 459 criminalizes the act of just entering a structure when your intent is to commit theft. It’s important to note a “structure” under Penal Code 459 is not just someone’s home or a place of business. It also includes auto burglary, boats, vessels, tent, cargo container, railroad car, trailer, among others. The level and punishment for a burglary charge will depend on the type of structure you entered and it does not require that you stole something after entry. Again, it’s a crime to just to make entry when your intent is to steal. Burglary can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. A first-degree burglary is always a felony offense and a strike under California’s three strike law. A second-degree burglary is known as a “wobbler,” meaning it can be charged a misdemeanor or felony, which is typically based on the value of property. If you have been accused of burglary, you should not make any statements to police as you might incriminate yourself. Rather, you need to consult with the experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at the Goldstein Law Group. Our law firm has a history of success defensing clients against any type of theft offense. Let’s take a closer look at the legal language of burglary under Penal Code 459.
What’s the Legal Definition of Burglary?
California Penal Code Section 459 legally defines the crime of burglary as follows:
Anyone who enters any house, apartment, warehouse, store or other building with intent to commit grand theft, petit larceny or any felony is guilty of burglary.
As you can see above, “entry” and “intent” are the key elements of a burglary crime. You “enter” a building when any portion of your body crosses the building’s boundary. This would also include any tool you may have used to reach inside. A common example of burglary in Los Angeles County includes a situation when someone breaks a car window to steal something inside. Another example includes entering someone’s home or a business to steal property inside. Remember, entry and the intent are the primary reasons you could face burglary charges, even if the doors are unlocked or left wide open. This means if you happen to see a garage door wide open in the middle of the day and make a sudden decision to take advantage of the situation by walking in and stealing some tools, you could face felony residential burglary charges.
Residential burglary is a commonly known as “first-degree burglary” and always a felony offense with harsh legal consequences. The primary difference from commercial burglary is a residential burglary is committed in an inhabited structure, meaning it’s currently being used for dwelling purposes, even if it’s not occupied. The legal punishment for a residential burglary conviction will typically depend on whether the home owner was there at the time of the burglary. If the homeowner was present when you entered, the Los Angeles County prosecutor will charge the case as a violent felony crime, meaning you would be required to serve 85% of your sentence if convicted. If nobody was home when you entered, it’s still a serious felony charge requiring that you serve 50% of your sentence. Either way, it’s still a “strike” on your record under the three strikes law which will be used against you later for a sentence enhancement.
Commercial burglary is commonly known as a ‘second-degree burglary” and a “wobbler” that can be charged as either a misdemeanor or felony crime. Commercial burglary is charged when you enter a commercial structure with the intent to commit theft or a felony. A common example of commercial burglary in Los Angeles County includes a situation when someone enters a retail store or warehouse in the middle of the night to steal items inside. Again, while forced entry is the most common way of making entry, but it’s not required to be charged with commercial burglary. As stated, the prosecutor has the discretion to charge the case as a misdemeanor or felony. They will typically make this decision based on the value of the items you attempted to steal, if the crime was committed during normal business hours, and whether you are register as a sex offender under California Penal Code Section 290.
Legal Penalties for Burglary
If you are convicted of felony first-degree burglary under California Penal Code Section 459, you could face the following legal penalties:
- Two, four, or six years in a California state prison
- A fine up to $10,000
- Both prison and fine
- Formal felony probation
- A “strike” under California’s three strike law
If you are convicted of second-degree burglary under California Penal Code Section 459, it’s either a felony or misdemeanor. If convicted of felony second-degree burglary, you could face the following legal penalties:
- 16 months, two or three years in Los Angeles County jail
- A fine up to $10,000
- Formal felony probation
If you are convicted a misdemeanor second-degree burglary, you could face the following legal penalties:
- Up to 1 year in a Los Angeles County jail
- A fine up to $10,000
- Summary misdemeanor probation
As you can see above, a burglary conviction can carry life-altering consequences. Your personal and professional life are at stake. Contact our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys and let us review the details and legal options.
Related Burglary Offenses
California Penal Code Section 466 – Possession of Burglary Tools
California Penal Code Section 484(a) – Petty Theft
California Penal Code Section 487 – Grand Theft
California Penal Code Section 496 – Receiving Stolen Property
California Penal Code Section 602 – Trespassing
Legal Defenses for Burglary
Our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers have a wide range of options to fight your burglary charges. It’s critical to note that every burglary case has its own set of unique circumstances and evidence and will first require a thorough review of all the details to formulate a strategy to obtain the best possible outcome. The most common legal defenses against charges of burglary under California Penal Code Section 459 include the following:
Lack of intent – Going back to the definition of burglary, it requires that you had “intent” to steal something at the moment you entered the structure. In fact, intent the most critical element of the crime. Our lawyers may be able to challenge the prosecutor’s argument you had intent to steal as it must be proven beyond reasonable doubt. If our attorneys are successful at casting some reasonable doubt about your intent, it’s possible to have the charges reduced to a lesser offense of even dismissed.
No Entry – Again, under the legal definition of burglary, you must have crossed some boundary of the structure to be charged with burglary. This crossing could include a part of your body or even a tool. In some cases, we might be able to make an argument you didn’t cross a boundary of the property and thus can’t be guilty of burglary. The burden on proof in the responsibility of the Los Angeles County prosecutor.
Claim of Right – In some burglary cases, we might be able to pursue a claim of ownership or a right of possession argument. You can’t be guilty of PC 459 burglary if you entered someone’s home to take possession of property you believed you owned. However, we must be able to show you had a reasonable belief it was your property or you believed you had permission to take the property. In other words, you can’t steal something you reasonably believed you owned in the first place.
Contact Our Criminal Defense Law Firm for Help
If you have been accused of burglary in violation of California Penal Code Section 459, you could be facing significant legal consequences if convicted. You need to speak with the Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys at the Goldstein Law Group as soon as possible. Early intervention into your case by our law firm can have a huge impact on the outcome of the case. Negotiation with the prosecutor may be possible, but our lawyers need to first take a close look at the fine details of your case. We have a long history of success and dedicated to an aggressive approach to reach the best possible outcome. Our law firm serves clients throughout Los Angeles County from our main office in Hollywood, located at 1645 Vine St #809 Los Angeles, CA 90028. Contact us at 323-461-2000 to discuss your case.
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